The slam of the door, as he left, felt good. The noise resonated. Was that the right word? Jim would know. It was his kind of word. All he knew was that the door rattled in its frame. The air jumped out of its way. It was the noise of separation. The noise of freedom. A marker. An ending. No, no, a beginning. A start, not a finish. Although the reasons for going were not, the going itself had to be positive, didn’t it? Hold on tight to that thought.
His anger carried him a long way and quickly. There was a heat to his skin as he hurried away. The slamming of the door should have brought them forth. He didn’t do it for that reason. And he wouldn’t have stayed even if they had appeared but they didn’t even care enough for that. He’d been angry when he’d slammed the door but the surge he felt as he walked away was barely controllable. He wanted to punch – well, anything, the wall, a car, the lamppost, kill someone maybe. Instead, he let it drive him. He ran. It moved him from his own front door. It moved him onto the bus. It helped him pull the money from his account without a thought about the electric guitar he’d been saving for. Onto the train. It kept his heart pounding, his brain buzzing. Had he ever felt as alive as this? All nerves firing. He was leaving and he wasn’t coming back.
He put some of the money in his bag, some in his pocket and some in the top of his sock. He could feel it rubbing pleasantly against his leg. He’d seen that on the TV. He hoped it would not be necessary.
He’d thought about going to see Jim who was at uni in York. First year. English lit. It sounded so exciting when he spoke to Jim on the phone and he was longing for the day when he was away, A-levels out of the way. Grown up. No need to answer to people who didn’t even try to understand.
He was sure he could find Jim’s halls of residence. He’d been there once with his parents, on Jim’s first day. He knew the address. No doubt had his brother still been at home, this row wouldn’t have happened. No, not quite. Jim didn’t stop the rows but he always helped smooth things out. He was someone to talk to. Someone who understood. Someone who knew everything. That made heading to him attractive.
He’d stood looking at the rows of potential trains on the huge screens and there it was – a train to York in twenty minutes. He was sorely tempted. He could see it. He would phone Jim, who would pick him up and would look after him. At least for a bit. How long before he phoned their parents or put the pressure on so he did? He might accept needing a bit of time away from them but long term? Too risky. Regretfully, he picked a train to London, leaving in seventeen minutes.
He could barely sit still in the meantime. He pulled his phone from his pocket. No word yet. Well, they probably still thought that he would be back when he was hungry. Ha. They would be sorry when they realised. They would be begging him to come home. And maybe he would. But it would have to be his terms. Totally and utterly.
The train was quiet. No one noticed him. He was grateful. No questions. He didn’t know what he would do when he got to London so instead he let the words of the row play on a loop through his brain. “No son of mine.” Fair enough. Forget you ever had a son. “I can’t bear to look at you.” Well, that would certainly be well and truly solved. “It’s disgusting. You disgust me.” That was particularly annoying. Not strong enough. A better word needed. Galling. That was what Jim would say. It was galling. They had only been kissing. What was so terrible about kissing? He could understand that if you walked in on people having sex – no matter what the gender combination – it would be shocking but they’d only been kissing. All hands were visible. Shoes weren’t even off.
Of course, his parents hadn’t known. He’d known it wasn’t something they would understand. They wanted him to be more like Jim. And why not? Jim was practically perfect. Easily academic but also good at sport. Always at the top of the class. Never in trouble. Kind, open, funny. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about Jim. Parents and teachers adored him. And girls loved him. He didn’t resent his brother’s popularity though, just wished he could attain it himself. Every bit of it. His difference from his brother was the base of all his rows with his parents. And this – this was the biggest difference of all.
The indignation started to wear off. He felt twitchy and wished that he didn’t have to sit still. If he could march, up and down the aisle, in between the seats, that might help a little. But they’d pick him out for a weirdo then. They’d take note of his features and remember. He didn’t want that.
His phone vibrated against his chest before it started to ring. He reached into his jacket pocket. Glenn. He didn’t know whether to answer it or not. In his anger, he had forgotten him. Guilt for that. Chewing his lip, he stared at the picture that accompanied his name – he had to smile, those dark blue eyes, the ever-present grin – and then at the slide button between accept and reject. What to do? He hesitated for so long that the decision was removed from his hands and it went to voicemail. Probably the best solution.
He listened to the message and didn’t know what to do. He desperately wanted to speak to Glenn. Are you okay? He’d said, his voice full of that calm that was warming to the skin. Like sinking into a hot bath. Why not come here until they calm down? They could speak to my parents about it. They know what it’s like having a gay son. That was typical of Glenn’s parents. Talk it out. Everything out in the open. Glenn had come out when he was eleven. Very nice but he couldn’t see his mother and father sat in Glenn’s neat living room, having that discussion. That would mean acknowledging. Which was unlikely. This was a thing they would need to bury. Then Glenn had said I love you. They’d said that for the first time last week. Hearing it now, over the phone, he was seized by the urge to cry. That was where he should have gone. Not here, on this lonely train. He sniffed, pulled away from the impulse. He would not do it. He would not give cause for sympathy.
The announcement from the guard grabbed his attention. He missed what station they’d just pulled out from but he caught the bit where he said the next stop would be London King’s Cross. His heart was pounding. This was it. The future. The new beginning. The escape. He liked trying out the words. He thought about the money from his account. It wasn’t going to get him very far if he stayed in a hotel. He pulled his phone out of his pocket. There must be somewhere cheap enough. Out of the middle maybe. Just while he got a job. He knew you needed an address to get a job.
There was a place. For teens. Run by a charity. To keep you off the streets. Ok. A lifting of the heart.
He stared at the tube map. Jesus. All the lines. He couldn’t see his location at first. He stepped closer. Oh, there it was. Right over there. There was just a tangle of lines between, criss-crossing the map. He couldn’t see how to unpick it. His head thudded. Sometimes it happened in maths or science when they had to look at diagrams. The lines had a life of their own. The whole thing was starting to fall away from his eyes. Tears were pricking. For God’s sake. Panic came up from his stomach and down through his nose. His breath was quickening, sweat running down his sides. There was no way that he could work this out by himself.
The voice surprised him. It came from his left. It was calm and in control. A stark contrast to his near hyperventilating.
“Are you okay, mate?” The voice said again, moving into his line of vision. It was a young man, maybe not much older than he was. Probably not yet twenty. He relaxed almost instantly. “Are you lost?”
“No. I just… This map is an absolute nightmare.” He looked back at it again and was pleased to note that the lines had settled back into their places. “I can’t work how where I have to change. This is where I have to get to.” He pointed at the station on the map. The man nodded his head but instead of offering advice, he said, “That’s the way I’m heading. I’ll show you if you like.”
Afterwards he would wonder why he was so willing to follow. He wasn’t stupid but he’d trotted off behind him, down into the belly of the station. Perhaps because he was young. Perhaps because he was handsome. He thought about it often. As if thinking could make a difference.
“My name’s Scott, by the way,” the man said, over his shoulder.
“Ian.” He replied. Perhaps he should have lied. Too late. He’d have to hope he wasn’t that memorable. He didn’t think there was much about him that stood out. He was just normal looking, wearing normal clothes. Glenn had told him he had amazing eyes but when he’d looked in the mirror, he hadn’t been able to see it.
Scott didn’t ask him much. Afterwards, he realised that this was strange but at the time, he was relieved merely that he didn’t have to test out a cover story. Besides, a large part of him was trying desperately to get his bearings. Before they even got on the tube, they seemed to have walked for miles. Down escalators, along tunnels. All around people traipsed passed him. Why did everyone look so depressed? Everyone always wanted to come to London but it obviously didn’t do them much good.
It wasn’t much better on the tube. They sat opposite each other. Again little speaking. Would people even realise that they were together? Probably not. He kept his head down and avoided eye contact. Not that anyone wanted to make it anyway. Everyone was in their own world. Planet individual. Which was good. At least, he told himself so. No one would remember his face if they never even looked at him. He didn’t want people to remember. He didn’t want to be found. They’d have to live with the fact that they’d pushed him away. He pictured his mother’s tears, falling quietly down her cheeks. She never was a showy crier. And his father? What would it take for him to cry? Well, he would never be happy again.
Then they were off the tube, through the station, on another, off again, on again, through tunnels, down escalators, on again, off again, until his head was spinning. How was it possible to cross the city without ever seeing the sky? All the while, Scott said little other than this way or this is us. He grew accustomed to the sight of Scott’s yellow jacket, just ahead.
“This is the stop.” Scott said. One final escalator and then out through the barriers and he could feel the fresh air on his skin. Well, fresher than the recycled heat down in the pits. Finally, he was getting somewhere.
Outside of the station, he was surprised by the roughness of the area. Downtrodden and unpleasant. Well, there was no reason that it wouldn’t be horrible outside the touristy bits. Still, he hadn’t thought he would arrive in such a dead end area. Scott was too far ahead to speak to. As he watched, Scott turned and indicated that he hurry up. When he was beside him, he turned off up an alley, narrow and full of rubbish. No, this could not be right.
“Are you sure this is the way?” He said, surprised by the shakiness of his voice. Scott turned and suddenly he was right next to him. He could smell Scott’s breath. Instinct. A step back.
“What, you think you know London now? You who were so clearly new to the city? You who couldn’t even work out the fucking tube map? You who was nearly crying, you fucking baby.” The changes wrought across Scott’s voice and body were as complete as they were disturbing. All kindness was gone from his voice and his body was taut. Could he run? He glanced up the alley. Scott snorted. “It’s too late. You can’t get away now.”
He started to move nevertheless but the fist caught him in the chin. He wobbled, shocked as much as hurt. He didn’t know what to do. He’d never so much as raised a hand to anyone. Scott was quick. An expert. A fist to the stomach, followed by a foot when he went down. Then the foot in the jaw and darkness apart from stabs of light that made his head hurt. He was vaguely aware of hands searching. Hands that found a phone and money, from his jacket pocket, from his wallet and then hands that removed his rucksack from his back, dragged his jacket away. Then laughter as footsteps hurried away. He tried to sit up and promptly vomited. He lay back down. He couldn’t stay here. That was obvious. But he couldn’t move either.
How much later? A lot darker. His mind assessed his injuries constantly. The broken tooth. The split lip. The ache in his stomach. The pain in his head. More than that, he assessed his own stupidity. His pride hurt most of all. Of course, he had stood out. Of course, people were never merely kind. At least, he still had a little money but nowhere near enough. Well, not enough anyway but probably not even enough to survive a day now.
He’d thought of his mother. When he’d come back to his senses. She was the source of comfort. Had been. A correction. He reminded himself of what he had run away from. No more warmth there then here in this alley. He imagined how horrified she would be, to see his battered face. It made him feel better. This is your fault. That was what he would say.
The tube station was closed. So he was stuck here. Up the street, looking for a place to sleep. What was he looking for? He sniggered. Nowhere was going to be comfortable. Nowhere was going to be warm. Was he hoping that round the next corner someone was going to have thrown out a comfy armchair ready for him to collapse into? He started to laugh and then he couldn’t stop. He was shaking with it. Tears poured down his cheeks and the sobs when they started wracked his entire body. He fell against the wall, weakness grabbing at his knees. He slumped to a kneeling position, leaned against the cold brick.
He jolted up from the wall. He hadn’t expected to sleep but he must have been. Dreams only came in sleep. He tried to hold on to it. The warmth of the dream, the feel of Glenn’s lips. But it was gone. Disappeared into the breaking dawn. In its absence, the cold bit tighter. He shuddered.
He tried to move. Stiffness from the cold and pain from his bruises made him awkward. What would people think? That he was drunk maybe. Not that it mattered. No one there. His stomach growled. That was problem number one. He’d even stolen some food from home before he left. No doubt, Scott was tucking into that at this very moment. He let out a growl of frustration.
Back to the tube station. A glance at his watch. Should be open. If it wasn’t, it wasn’t as if he had anything to do. As he walked, he brought to mind his father’s words, a reminder of why even now, this was better. He’d been sent up by his mother. It was always the same. He brought the news of the decided punishment. He’d walked straight into the bedroom – no one ever fucking knocked – and sat on the end of the bed. He watched his father’s fingers that couldn’t be still.
“What do you want?” His voice was sharp but he thought he knew what was coming. We forbid you… He was prepared for battle. He wasn’t letting go of Glenn without a fight.
“Look, Ian, I know you think that this boy really likes you,” His father’s voice was patient, ready to explain, “But these things he’s making you do, they’re really not right. (That was a laugh. Making you. He’d kissed Glenn first.) And you’re so young. How can you even know what you want? But we understand that it’s not your fault. We’re going to help you sort this out.” And the solution was therapy. They’d made his first appointment. They thought they were being supportive. He knew he was being changed. Arguing was pointless. It always was. Not that it had stopped him before. Not this time though. He’d packed his stuff and walked out the door. Now he was stuck. He couldn’t go back to that. But there was no forward from here either. No direction home or anywhere else.